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Whiskey Raw Ingredient Sampling

Posted by AJ Naber on 1/14/16 11:14 AM
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Whiskey distilleries benefit greatly from automatic sampling

The old saying goes, “If whiskey interferes with your business, give up your business. No use trying to do two things at once.” For some, whiskey IS their business. Within the state of Tennessee, there are more than 20 whiskey distilleries.


A Tennessee whiskey producer based in Lynchburg needed to sample raw ingredients – corn, malt and rye – from three large vertical spouts before the grains traveled to the distillery for mixing and mashing. This sampling would take place after the first step in the whiskey production process.

Whiskey production process includes five main steps:

  1. Malting, in which barley is soaked in water and then dried in a malting house before being mixed with corn and rye – (for Tennessee whiskey).
  2. Mashing, in which the grains are added to warm water to begin the extraction of soluble sugars. The water is normally from a pure, reliable, local source, which is why most distilleries around the world are next to a river or lake. The character of this water can influence the final spirit. During this process, the sugars in the malt dissolve and are drawn off through the bottom of the mash tun. The resulting liquid is called wort. This process is normally carried out three times with the water temperature being increased each time to extract the maximum amount of sugar.
  3. Fermentation, which happens after the wort is cooled and passed into large tanks, traditionally made of wood. Yeast is added to turn the sugars into alcohol, and fermentation begins. 
  4. Distillation, where the wash is run through copper, bowl-shaped stills with a neck at the top. The larger still heats the liquid until it vaporizes and rises until it reaches the neck, where it condenses. A smaller still finalizes the process. Tennessee whiskey is charcoal-filtered before it is moved to barrels.
  5. In the Maturation stage, the spirit is stored in barrels, usually wooden. The longer it’s aged, the darker the color. During maturation, the flavors of the spirit combine with natural compounds in the wood cask to give the whiskey a unique flavor and aroma. Since wood is porous, over time it brings in air from the surrounding environment, which is another factor in a spirit’s unique characteristics. During each year of maturation about 2 percent of spirit is lost through natural evaporation – the “angel's share” – which is why older whiskies are less available and more expensive: there is less whiskey in the cask to bottle.

Trust But Verify

While trusted ingredient suppliers are critical to any operation, automated sampling is also a critical component of any ingredient management system to help verify consistency and quality. This whiskey producer needed to analyze the representative samples of the grains for sugar content, to ensure consistency in the final product, as well as for quality and any contamination.

The particle size for each grain was 1/8 of an inch, and a composite sample totaling one quart over 2-3 hours was required. The product was abrasive, segregating, static generating and hygrosopic, which means it could attract and hold water molecules from the surrounding environment. The sampler would be located indoors at an ambient temperature of 50-100ᵒF using 230/460/3ph voltage.


A custom Sentry® B1 automatic point sampler was designed using 3-A compliant materials. Third-party certified, 3-A Sanitary Standards originally were developed for products coming into contact for dairy. The 3-A certification ensures samplers are easy to clean and that their design does not contain cracks or crevices where product can reside and create microbial growth.

The Sentry B-1 sampler was placed in the three gravity chutes between the upper and lower bins. Due to height requirements, the sampler was designed to be placed at an angle. A 303 stainless steel knife-edge auger was used to prevent particle crushing and keep the particle size intact for each grain so the sample would be representative, with no interference from the sampling equipment.

The sampler mounting ferrule was welded onto the customer hopper. The sampler features a 1-1/2-inch, 316 stainless steel sample tube with a 1 in. x 3 in. aperture. A bag, connected by a toggle clamp, was used to collect sample.

The Sentry B1 was operated by a Sentry SBC sampler controller in a NEMA 4X enclosure – constructed to protect operators against accidental access to hazardous parts and protect the PLC controller inside against substances such as grain dust or water. A sampler controller allows for continuous automatic sampling of the batch to create a representative composite sample.

Sampling Throughout Plant

A Sentry automatic sampling solution can be incorporated into additional areas of a whiskey distillery, including sampling of the mash after straining and before whiskey distillation, as well as final product for blended whiskeys, in which different barrels of product are mixed together.

Automatic representative sampling of all types of foods and beverages is needed to ensure quality and safety. Sentry sampling solutions are ideal for any solid, powder, liquid and slurry food, beverage or pet food application. Our easy-to-clean designs feature FDA-approved seals, and several Sentry ISOLOK® samplers are conformant to 3-A Sanitary Standards (third-party verified), as well as USDA, Canadian Grain, FGIS and NOPA standards.

Learn more about our food and beverage sampling solutions.

Thank you to Whisky For Everyone for information on the whiskey process.

Automatic Sampling: Why It's Essential for Food & Beverages

Topics: Food & Beverage

Written by AJ Naber

AJ likes all kinds of foods and beverages. Not only interested in consuming them, he also offers expertise in engineering and installation of process systems for the dairy, food, beverage and brewing industries.

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